Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Evolution of Kansas Schools

One of the third rails of American education is the teaching of the theory of evolution, particularly to elementary and high school students. Religious groups, believing that evolution contradicts the biblical story of Creation, have spent years fighting through local school boards and the courts in an attempt to ban the teaching of evolution and to insert in its place the "theory" of Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design is, of course, nothing more than biblical Creation dressed up as quasi-science.

In December 2005, a US District Court in Pennsylvania issued a thorough and devastating decision which effectively demolished the teaching of Intelligent Design in Pennsylvania. Judge John Jones's 139-page decision (Case 4:04-cv-02688-JEJ) clearly showed that the Dover School District's requirement to have the local schools teach Intelligent Design as an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution was nothing more than a attempt to present religious doctrine as science, in violation of the Constitutional separation of church and state.

The gold standard for religious meddling in the teaching of science, though, has been Kansas, which has won international ridicule for its heavy-handed attempts to push religion-based concepts as science in its schools. But according to recent news reports, new elections in Kansas have brought more moderate and fewer religiously dogmatic persons to the state Board of Education, and new teaching standards reflecting mainstream science and the theory of evolution are being reintroduced into the schools.

While this is good news, it should also be noted that this event marks the fifth set of standards for Kansas schools in eight years, and could easily be overturned in another year or two if religiously conservative lawmakers are elected again.

Readers of this blog know that I am fiercely critical of dogmatic and intolerant followers of Islam, but I am equally critical of hidebound fundamentalist Christians and Jews who would slavishly apply the literal precepts of religious texts written nearly two millenia ago. Over the years I have come to have little respect for those who would impose - by force, in the case of Islam and by law, in the case of Christianity - their religious beliefs on others. Religions have been hijacked by their most extreme adherents, and have drifted far from their valuable role in providing a moral compass and guide to life in a complex time.

Kansas has won a small victory for rationality in education. One can only hope it will last, and that people of goodwill and strong moral fiber will seize religions back from those who would wield them as weapons.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


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